Monday, 30 September 2013

Southend United vs Morecambe (07/09/13)

Match 209

Ground #: 165

Ground: Roots Hall

Competition: English League 2

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £14 (concession)

Programme: £3

Attendance: 6,080

Southend United 1

Hurst 30’

Cheltenham Town 1

Fleming 35’, 47’, Sampson 56’, Threlfall s/off 70’


Despite the 3-0 tonking on the south coast I witnessed when I last went to watch Morecambe, the fixture computer had given the Shrimps another early southern away game. This time at the Shrimpers, on the Essex Coast. Having been unavailable the previous two seasons when Morecambe played here, I wasn’t missing it this time and with Morecambe having never lost to Southend, I was looking forward to seeing that continue.


Southend-on-Sea is a unitary authority area, town, and seaside resort in Essex situated within the Thames Gateway on the north side of the Thames estuary 40 mi east of central London. Originally the "south end" of the village of Prittlewell, became a seaside resort during the Georgian era, attracting many tourists in the summer months to its seven miles of beaches and bathing in the sea. Good rail connections and proximity to London mean that much of the economy has been based on tourism, and that Southend has been a dormitory town for city workers ever since. Southend, like many other British sea-side resorts, went into decline as a holiday destination from the 1960s, since flights and hence holidays abroad became more affordable. Since then, much of the town centre has been developed for commerce and retail, and during the 1960s many original structures were lost to redevelopment. However, about 6.4 million tourists still visit Southend per year, generating estimated revenues of £200 million a year.


Southend United were formed relatively late in 1906 and played Southern League football until 1920 when they co-founded the Football League’s new 3rd Division. The league was regionalised a year later and in the Southern Section of the League, Southend only ever came close to promotion twice when they finished 3rd in 1932 and 1950. When the league was nationalised in 1958, Southend became a yo-yo team as they floated between the 3rd and 4th Divisions between their first relegation in 1966 and winning the 4th Division in 1981. After the dark days of the 1980s when on the pitch, the Shrimpers were struggling back in the 4th Division and off the pitch, the club lost £70k out of the Christmas savings scheme through fraud, the club turned the corner and began on the up. A double promotion in 1990 and 1991 saw Southend in the 2nd Division and New Year’s Day 1992 saw the Shrimpers top of the league. Had they continued their good form, the club could have become founding members of the Premier League, but they tailed off to finish 12th. Again, the club started to decline, but were back in the newly named Championship in 2007 after a revival from Steve Tilson. Their time in the Championship was short as they were relegated after 1 season and were back down in the basement in 2010 following their 23rd place finish in League 1. They only have looked like promotion contenders once in their 3 seasons back at this level, with a 4th place finish in 2011/12 but were beaten by Crewe in the play-offs.


Roots Hall is technically a “ground for concern” as Southend have announced plans to move to a new ground at Fossetts Farm and will hope building work will start soon on an ambitious 14,000 seater stadium. (Average attendance 2012/13: 5,003) Roots Hall’s days are numbered then which is a bit of a shame as it’s a great wee ground, although is starting to show its age. Away fans were housed behind the goal in the North Stand which does provide decent views, although the leg room for the seats is nonexistent so standing is a must. The Main Stand (East) runs the length of the pitch and was originally designed as a section of seating with terracing below, however it was made all seater in the 90s. The South Stand is the strange small two tiered structure behind the other goal which might win the award for smallest two tiered stand in the Football League? With another styled stand of the West Stand, Roots Hall is one of those types of ground which are sadly disappearing over time and will no doubt be replaced by some shite plastic structure on the edge of Southend.


My worries surrounding Morecambe getting going after the Portsmouth defeat were silly as the Shrimps were one of the form teams in the league coming into this game. Sending Exeter and then Plymouth back to Devon with their pasties between the legs was the start and after giving Newcastle a massive scare in the League Cup, we were looking on the up. Being in 13th position, it was a far sight better than the start we had made. The home side had looked to have made a reasonable start in the league with wins over Plymouth, Hartlepool and Northampton before defeats to Chesterfield and Wycombe had brought them back down towards the chasing pack. Still looking good (even though it was early on) in 7th position, a lot of people had this game as a home banker. Yet, in 6 attempts Southend had never beaten Morecambe and I was confident we’d push that and make it 7.


Much like the Portsmouth game, Morecambe started a tad slowly and allowed the fake Shrimpers to come at them. Unlike Portsmouth however, we were playing a system that the side were used to and Barry Roche was in goal leading his defence well. Still, if you aren’t going to start well you need a bit of luck and the Shrimps gained that on 7 minutes when Freddie Eastwood crashed his header off a post with Roche well beaten. Both sides were then stuck in a midfield battle until the 30 minute mark when some awful defending allowed Southend the lead. When Kevan Hurst received the ball on the far side, nothing much looked on. Yet he skipped past two dreadful attempts at a challenge and fired a show low into the bottom corner to give Roche no chance. When it looked like Southend might push on from this, they found themselves pegged back within only 5 minutes. A nothing ball into the box was not cleared properly and Andrew Fleming curled a beauty into the bottom corner from 30 yards. Much like the recent game vs Plymouth, Morecambe had shown great fighting sprits to not be behind for long. With Southend stunned, the game petered out till HT where it looked like anyone’s if they wanted it.


Within 30 seconds of the 2nd half, it was clear who wanted the three points more. A long ball downfield caught Southend out to allow Padraig Amond a clear run at goal but was blocked by Southend goalie Daniel Bentley. However, the ball ran loose after the block and goal hero Fleming was on hand to smash the ball through the people on the line to give Morecambe the lead. It got ever better on 56 minutes when Craig Sampson (who had never scored a professional goal before) crashed home a 25 yard strike to put the away fans in dreamland. Southend, now completely stunned forced a brilliant save from Roche when on loan Fulham youngster Cauley Woodrow fired a header at goal. When it looked like Morecambe would ride out the remaining 20 minutes with ease, Robbie Threlfall stupidly went into a two footed challenge on Anthony Straker and was promptly sent off after only being on for 7 minutes. Now turning into the Essex version of the Alamo, it was a block everything job as defensively Morecambe stood firm with only two Barry Corr chances that were saved by Roche being the difficult moments. 7 times played vs Morecambe, 0 wins for Southend.


I was delighted to finally get a Saturday in the season where I was free to get to Roots Hall, especially as it was a brilliant performance (bar the opening 10 minutes) from Morecambe to make it 3 wins in a row. It got better too, as the 4th straight win was achieved with a hard fought win at Newport, before a 94th minute equaliser denied the Shrimps a 5th straight win vs Dag & Red. Currently in the play-offs, hopefully we can push on and consolidate this place! Who knows! Southend, seem to be going in the opposite direction with a 1-0 defeat at home to Scunthorpe before scraping a 1-1 draw with Bury to leave them without a win in 5 games. The man with the tan, Phil Brown is under pressure otherwise a shiny new 14,000 stadium will be hosting some massive games against Hyde and Braintree rather than the Football League.

Photos from Southend United vs Morecambe


Match Ratings:

- Match: 7/10 (enjoyed it)

- Value for money: 6/10 (reasonable league pricing)

- Ground: 7.5/10 (great, old school ground)

- Atmosphere: 5/10 (home fans offered nothing)

- Food: N/A – was pre-warned not to eat at ground so was local pub food instead

- Programme: 6/10 (good effort)

- Referee: Charles Breakspear – 7/10 (got on with it)

SU vs Morecambe prog

SU vs Morecambe stub

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

West Ham United vs Cheltenham Town (27/08/13)

Match 208

Ground #: 164

Ground: Upton Park

Competition: Capital One Cup 2nd Round

Kick Off: 7:45pm

Cost: £10

Programme: £3.50

Attendance: 23,440

West Ham United 2

Vaz Te 42’, Morrison 46’

Cheltenham Town 1

Richards (pen) 56’


After coming up to 2 years living in London, there were only a few more professional football grounds still to see. Tottenham’s White Hart Lane might be done if they bother to offer tickers below £30 in the foreseeable future, while I might leave Barnet’s new Hive for a wee while. That just left Upton Park, standing in East London, before the Hammers move across to the Olympic Stadium (it seems) in 2016. When West Ham were drawn against Cheltenham Town in the League Cup and offered cheap tickets (you watching Spurs!?) I didn’t need asked.


West Ham is an area in the London Borough of Newsham. A settlement in the area named Ham was first recorded as Hamme in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 958 and then in the 1086 Domesday Book as Hame. The earliest recorded use of West Ham, as distinct from East Ham, is in 1186 as Westhamma. It is formed from Old English 'hamm' and means 'a dry area of land between rivers or marshland', referring the location of the settlement within boundaries formed by the rivers Lea, Thames and Roding and their marshes. West Ham was then formed around a large ancient parish in the Becontree hundred of Essex. Following the opening of Stratford station, the first railway station in the area, in 1839, the focus of activity shifted northwards towards the fast-expanding Stratford, with the original settlement diminishing in significance. In 1840 the parish was included in the Metropolitan Police District and soon after the built-up area of London had encompassed West Ham. The former county borough was merged with the adjacent County Borough of East Ham to form the new London Borough of Newham on 1 April 1965. Today, the area has been one of the most deprived in the country and as part of the New Deal for Communities programme it forms, with neighbouring Plaistow, a regeneration area, helped in part by the 2012 London Olympics which took place on its doorstep.


The earliest generally accepted incarnation of West Ham United was founded in 1895 as the Thames Ironworks team by foreman and local league referee Dave Taylor and owner Arnold Hills. The team played on a strictly amateur basis until 1898 when they entered the Southern League 2nd Division, where they won promotion to the 1st Division on the first attempt. The team initially played in full dark blue kits, as inspired by Mr. Hills, who had been an Oxford University "Blue", but changed in 1899 when they acquired their now traditional home kit combination of claret shirts and sky blue sleeves in a wager involving Aston Villa players, who were League Champions at the time. The club was relaunched in 1900 as West Ham United and moved to their current Boleyn Ground in Upton Park in 1904. After reaching the famous White Horse Final in the FA Cup in 1923 (they lost 2-0 to Bolton), the club settled into a position in the top two leagues, reaching the top flight again in 1958. The club enjoyed their greatest success under Ron Greenwood as they won the FA Cup and Cup Winners Cup during the mid 60’s before a large chunk of West Ham players made up the England 1966 World Cup squad. (I can’t remember how they did) After the glory days ended, the club did start to yo-yo between the two leagues again until 1993/94 when after promotion to the Premier League they appeared to have become a mainstay. Under Harry Redknapp they achieved some impressive league finishes, but when he was replaced in 2001, they started their slump again and have been relegated twice (and bounced back both times) before seemingly being back in the comfortable top flight clubs under current boss Sam Allardyce.


Although it apparently does not have long left, Upton Park is a classic ground. A short walk from Upton Park or East Ham stations (but not West Ham, funnily), the ground is dominated on the outside by the modern Alpari Stand. The largest single football stand in London, it was rebuilt in 2001 and features two large turrets on the outside that give it a grand view while walking past. The other three stands are a lot smaller and despite the recent(ish) modernisation works to the place, it does still feel slightly run down in parts, but this doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the place. The East Stand is the smallest one of the four, with it being only singled tiered and built in 1969 (although it was made all-seater later) and did contact the Hammer’s loud support, however they have now moved over sit near the away fans. The two stands behind the goals are also quite imposing (Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking Stands) and the compact nature of Upton Park, surrounded by housing right around it, mean it’s a great place to watch football and for the big games, must have a good atmosphere.


The League Cup rarely brings in the “big games” anymore for the top flight clubs as most see it as a nuisance and extra games. For clubs out of the ivory tower though, the chance to play the big boys is one to enjoy and as much like Morecambe did against Newcastle, Cheltenham Town were right up for this one. Not fully packing out the away end, but bringing considerably more than they would for a league game, the Robins hadn’t started particularly well in League 2. Defeats to Chesterfield and Plymouth had been partially resolved with a win over non-league bound Accrington but a team who had been challenging for play-off positions in the past few seasons will want to do better. They had won a bizarre 1st Round tie at home to Crawley Town to set this game up, the furthest they had been in the competition since 2008/09. (When they had lost 3-2 to Stoke) West Ham had only played two league games in the build up to this, with a 2-0 home win against Cardiff City and a goalless draw at Newcastle to set them up nicely for this game. However with Big Sam making a number of changes, you just never knew. (You did, but you can still imagine)


Cheltenham’s tactic was clearly to get in the home side’s faces and disrupt their play. A tough tactic to get right against a side that play 3 leagues higher than you, but credit to the Robins, they got it spot on to begin with. With West Ham being hurried off the ball and playing like a team who rarely played together, the home fans began to get a bit edgy as Cheltenham were right in this. Goalscoring chances were fairly low however as Matt Taylor fired a free kick into Cheltenham’s goalie Scott Brown, while Matt Richards fired a Cheltenham free kick over the bar. As the half went on, the Robins began to push on a bit more as Razvan Rat and Adrian had to work hard at the back to stop them creating a clear cut chance. Sadly though, Cheltenham were undone just before half time. A foul on Ravel Morrison on the edge of the area brought the Hammers a free kick and up stepped Ricardo Vaz Te to smash the ball into the top corner. A shot out of the “you don’t save those” category, gave West Ham a lead a HT that looked very unlikely some 10 minutes earlier.


Clearly unhappy with the performance in the first half, Big Sam brought on Stewart Downing for Joe Cole and the Hammers seemed to have killed the game off instantly. Downing received the ball on the right and slipped it back to Morrison on the edge of the area. He easily skipped past one man before smashing the ball into the bottom corner. Barely a minute into the 2nd half, the Robins could really have been killed off as they let their heads drop and the Hammers looked to score more. Mohamed Diame fired a powerful shot over before both Vaz Te and Downing had headers that were just kept out. It looked like being one way traffic until Cheltenham then pulled one back amazingly. On a rare attack, the Hammers defence completely fell asleep to allow Sam Deering to nip in behind and poke the ball past Adrian. While Deering was then taken out, Rat got back to clear the ball off the line and to safety. However, the referee deemed that there had been no advantage and the penalty was given. I’d argue that Deering was unlikely to get to the ball anyway but I’m not a referee. Up stepped Richards to just stick the ball past Adrian and the Robins were right back in the game. You did expect there to be a big push from the away side now, however West Ham always looked more likely to score the next goal as Jack Collison forced a great save from Brown, while George McCartney hit the crossbar with a header. Cheltenham nearly inflicted an extra 30 minutes of pain on us when Ashley Vincent missed from 4 yards when he connected with a long throw, but they didn’t deserve to take the game to extra time and didn’t as West Ham went through to Round 3.


West Ham’s reward for this victory was a 3rd Round tie at home to Cardiff City which must have delighted the Met Police. This game was far from a classic and clearly not as good as the previous round’s tie I saw at Leyton Orient, but it was nice to finally get to see Upton Park. It hit home how daft some football pricing is now with adverts during the match publicising that I could see their next home game against footballing Gods, Stoke City, for £42. They lost that 1-0 in what sounds a classic to show Big Sam that they should have really signed a striker in the transfer window. Cheltenham carried on their good form too, getting hammered by Bury before holding Portsmouth to a draw as they struggle towards the lower ends of the league. Probably my only visit to Upton Park before they move to the Olympic Stadium and while it was average on the field, off the field it is a great venue and one that will be missed in 2016 when the Hammers decamp.

Photos from West Ham United vs Cheltenham Town


Match Ratings:

- Match: 5/10 (average for neutral)

- Value for money: 7/10 (good price for League Cup)

- Ground: 7/10 (can feel the history of the place)

- Atmosphere: 6/10 (was ok, away fans made a fair bit)

- Food: N/A – didn’t eat at ground, had classic pie and mash from Nathan’s Pie & Eels

- Programme: 4/10 (for one over £3 you’d think it was good, it wasn’t)

- Referee: Graham Scott – 6.5/10 (disagree on penalty, but sound on everything else)

WHU vs CT prog

WHU vs CT stub

Friday, 6 September 2013

Rayners Lane vs Wokingham & Emmbrook (24/08/13)

Match 207

Ground #: 163

Ground: Tithe Farm

Competition: Hellenic League Division 1 East (Level 10)

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £5

Programme: With Admission

Attendance: 56

Rayners Lane 1

McCarroll (pen) 81’, John s/off 67’

Wokingham & Emmbrook 3

Butler 61’, Rushforth 73’, Sensussi (pen) 90’


The start of my season had so far featured only professional grounds and clubs so it needed to be brought back down to the proper gritty non-league stuff. Needing to stay local I decided to look around my new area of Middlesex for a game and there was nearby Rayners Lane of the Hellenic League playing at home. I’m not sure why a league for clubs mainly from Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire has a team in London Zone 5, but I was to find out.


Rayners Lane is a suburban district in the London Borough of Harrow in northwest London between Pinner and West Harrow. It built up during the Middle Ages as the Rayners Lane road was used when transporting grain to the mill on Pinner Green. During the first half of the nineteenth century the area was in the hands of the Rayner family, who owned a farm. The area was drastically built up again between 1929 and 1938 by Harrow's biggest interwar housebuilder T.F. Nash, who created a shopping parade on Alexandra Avenue. The area is most widely known as the location of Rayners Lane tube station, first built in 1906, and most of the settlement is built around the tube station. The station links both the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines and therefore has good connections with the rest of London. The other principal point of architectural interest is the former cinema, an Art Deco building featuring a curved projection on the front somewhat resembling an elephant's trunk and is a listed building. It is currently being occupied by the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, and is used as a Zoroastrian centre - the only official temple of its type in the UK.


Rayners Lane FC have the fairly modern founding date of 1933 starting out in the Harrow, Wembley and District League. The Tithe Farm Social Club was formed and the football club was absorbed into it where they have played ever since. Their early days saw some success as they picked up three league titles and three league cups as well as the Middlesex Junior Cup in 1943. They moved forward after the war into the Spartan League but found it a struggle and failed to gain re-election in 1970/71. This led them to the Hellenic League which they joined in 1978 and promotion to the Hellenic Premier in 1983 saw them play top flight football in that league until they hit some struggles in 1994/95. With strict standards they were forced to drop back to the Middlesex League before joining the Chiltonian League in 1997/98. When that merged with the Hellenic League, the Lane found themselves in the new Division 1 East where they have normally finished in the top half of the table. Last season saw them win the division by 4 points, however due to failing ground grading rules the Lane were kept at this level while 5th place Bracknell Town went up instead.


For this season then, Rayners Lane are all change as a large chunk of their title winning squad and manager Dene Gardner left for “differing ambitions”. In has come new boss Mick Bradshaw and a whole host of new players as the Lane try to retain their title. They had made an ok start too after 3 games with winning 2 and losing one, to Maidenhead United Reserves. With the team and manager still learning about each other, you can suspect the Lane will improve as the season goes on. Their opponents were also playing in a league lower than they want to this season as Wokingham & Emmbrook had finished 8th (out of 20) in last season’s Hellenic Premier but had taken voluntary demotion to regroup. Having to play all of their early season fixtures away from home, the Sumas had lost their opening 2, conceding 11 and scoring just 4. The Lane were favourites for this game but the Sumas did finish in the top half of a league higher last season so you could never tell.


Tithe Farm is nice little ground that needs only a little bit of work here and there to get it up to Hellenic Premier standards. A short walk away from RL tube station, it has hard standing on at least 3 of the 4 sides (the 4th was just far too muddy for me to walk round to) with a small covered stand with both standing areas and seats across on the far side. Considering this ground is in London (albeit in Zone 5), the trees and quiet nature of the place does make you forget where it is. Considering I only have seen Ascot United in this league for comparison, I am a bit surprised this ground isn’t apparently good enough for Level 9 and FA Competitions, but there you go. A lovely place to spend a Saturday afternoon, even in the rain.


The game kicked off under some drizzle with Rayners Lane looking like the team who hadn’t lost every game they had played this season with some good early pressure against the Wokingham defence. A good counter-attacking opportunity came after just 5 minutes when Julian Smith and Jamel Mattan were both too fast for the away team but Mattan just stuck his shot wide. It was an open game as Rayners Lane did create a few more chances but entertainment was quite low as Wokingham were just trying to hang on in there. Richard John picked up a silly yellow card for kicking the ball away midway through the half but most of the good action came right at the end. Firstly a Paul Leslie free kick missed everyone and just went wide while Wokingham nearly got a nosebleed going up the other end but should have scored from a corner as a free header went wide. Lots of effort in the 1st half but not a lot of quality.


I’ve written this many times before in match reports and I’ll no doubt write it again but when you see a team dominate so much without scoring you can always see what will happen. It doesn’t happen in such spectacular style however. Rayners Lane had a corner pumped in and it was cleared off the line, down went Wokingham on the counter attack and Jake Butler cut into the area before firing past Andy Caesar. Their hardy band of fans went ballistic as they had offered very little for 60 minutes but now had the lead. It got worse for Rayners Lane too as just 6 minutes later they imploded from another corner. After playing a daft short corner, Lane lost the ball and Richard John had to lunge for the ball and caught the Wokingham player. When the ball broke down again, the referee went back and sent off the player to leave Lane right up against it. They even managed to fall asleep again at the back as Wokingham played some nice stuff on the left hand side before whipping a ball in which found Elliot Rushforth all alone to easily divert the ball past Caesar to gave the away side a scarcely believable 2-0 lead. You still thought though that Rayners Lane could still get something out of this and were awarded a way back in the game on 80 minutes. A lucky break in the area saw the ball fall nicely for Mattan and while he fired the shot over the bar, Wokingham goalie Ashley Withers took him out and play was brought back. Even the home fans were laughing at the decision but Lane captain Callum McCarroll stepped up and slotted the penalty into the bottom corner. Expecting now a battering, Lane did step it up but didn’t really create many chances to trouble Withers. In fact as Lane pushed forward Wokingham hit them on the counter attack again as a player was barged over in the area and late in the 6 minutes of injury time Khalid Sensussi scored the penalty to give Wokingham the points.


For my first non-league game of the season this was ok but did take a whole half to get going. At HT I did think Rayners Lane would comfortably see the match out but Wokingham did deserve their victory. Bringing a good following, although they do need to stop appealing for every decision that goes against them, it’s not a conspiracy, they look like they might be up there at the end of the season. Form isn’t on their side currently though as a 4-2 defeat at Burnham Reserves means they are down in 12th. Rayners Lane boss Mick Bradshaw admitted after the match that it could take until Christmas to get his team sorted and their patchy form continued with a 1-1 draw at home to Headington Amateurs. Tithe Farm is a lovely place to go, although with some stories about some shocking Hellenic League grounds out there, I’ll be cautious before jumping in to do more of this league.

Photos from Rayners Lane vs Wokingham & Emmbrook


Match Ratings:

- Match: 5.5/10 (sort of got going in 2nd half)

- Value for money: 6/10 (standard amount for Level 10)

- Ground: 6/10 (nice location)

- Atmosphere: 5/10 (away fans were a plenty but didn’t half moan)

- Food: 5/10 (unexciting sausage roll)

- Programme: 6.5/10 (no frills but free, can’t ask for too much)

- Referee: L Davis – 5/10 (completely lost it in 2nd half, for both sides)

RL vs W&E prog